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Lot 528

1930 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton

  • Chassis no. 702514

Sold for $297,000

Series 452-A. 175 hp, 452 cu. in. V-16 engine with overhead valves, three-speed selective synchromesh manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and hydraulic dampers, ¾-floating rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 148"

Cadillac stunned the fine car market at the New York Auto Show with the introduction of its breathtaking new sixteen-cylinder models. Spectators at the luxurious Astor Hotel were crowded elbow-to-elbow on January 4, 1930 when a crowd of some 20,000 spectators jostled to catch a glimpse of the new “Supercar.” With this single stroke, Cadillac instantly catapulted itself to the head of the luxury class. Until then, only Bugatti had produced a “U”-shaped 16-cylinder engine by bolting two eight-cylinder engines together, an innovation that was originally intended for aircraft use.

Cadillac’s V-16 was the first true 16-cylinder engine to be built from scratch, a project led by legendary engineer Owen Milton Nacker under conditions of the strictest secrecy. In order to avoid knowledge of the project leaking from lower-level GM engineering departments and parts suppliers, a well-coordinated disinformation campaign included cover stories and notes on various blueprints indicating that the project was actually Cadillac’s contribution to a GM bus or highway coach development project.

The resulting engine was extraordinary, designed concurrently with Cadillac’s own V-12 engine program with wide interchangeability of parts between them. Its 45-degree cylinder bank angle and overhead-valve cylinder head design kept the engine narrow, while the external manifolds allowed remarkable ease of access to the engine compartment. Furthermore, Cadillac’s V-16 was the first automotive engine ever to be “styled”; all the wiring was hidden behind conduits, and the engine compartment was dressed up with plenty of gleaming, polished aluminum, porcelain and a pair of beautiful valve covers with brushed aluminum ridged surfaces featuring the Cadillac emblem.

While the horsepower output of the V-16 engine was rated by Cadillac at “only” 175 horsepower, in truth it produced approximately 200 horsepower. Its mission, however, was not absolute performance and speed but rather to propel Cadillac’s massive chassis, which could accommodate a multitude of relatively heavy and luxurious custom coachbuilt bodies. With its peak torque output of 320 ft-lbs available at just 1,200 to 1,500 engine revolutions, the V-16 certainly achieved its design objectives.

The Cadillac V-16 was also incredibly smooth in operation, thanks in large part to its massive but well-balanced and tough forged crankshaft, well supported by five main bearings. Other special innovations included a silicon-aluminum crankcase, five-point engine mounts to reduce vibration, advanced overhead valve cylinder heads with the valvetrain actuated by pushrods and rocker arms, as well as carefully refined piston and piston ring designs. For ignition, the V-16 used a single distributor with two sets of breaker points controlled by two separate ignition coils.

In the face of a declining luxury market following “Black Tuesday,” Cadillac managed to survive and thrive, thanks to the strong financial support of its massive parent company, General Motors. Without this financial support, Cadillac could never have produced such a low-production, luxurious automobile for the elite car market. Although the cars were brilliantly designed and built, the rapidly shrinking Depression-era market meant that the V-16 was produced in tiny numbers for those few people who were capable of paying more than ten times the cost of a Chevrolet convertible. The few examples that remain today offer a rare glimpse into one of the most exciting automotive eras of all time.

The current owner acquired the stunning example we have the pleasure of offering here in early 2008. The prior California-based owner purchased it directly from Mr. Fred Weber during the mid-1980s. This V-16 is understood to have been assembled using an original chassis and engine, with new coachwork painstakingly built to exacting standards of authenticity. However, we are informed this particular example did indeed start life as a V-16, and while it is thought that it was also originally bodied as a Sport Phaeton, there are no records available to confirm this authoritatively.

It is fitted with all the correct and desirable period accessories, including chrome wire wheels with stainless-steel spokes and wide whitewall tires, Pilot Ray driving lights, a radiator stone guard, dual spotlights, dual side-mounted spare wheels and tires with matching covers, accessory mirrors, a rear-mounted metal luggage trunk and a correct Cadillac radiator mascot. The two-tone black and silver paint, which is beautifully complemented by the richly trimmed maroon leather interior, remains exquisite and shows little wear throughout.

Cadillac V-16s, the Sport Phaetons in particular, remain without doubt among the most desirable and sought-after of all prewar classics. This beautiful and correctly restored example is simply stunning, having been impeccably maintained for the past 20-plus years. It will surely delight its next owners as a great first-year example of Cadillac’s legendary V-16.


Please note that this title is in transit.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

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United Kingdom

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Ontario, Canada

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David Swig

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California, United States

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Don Rose

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United States

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California, United States

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Matt Malamut

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California, United States

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United Kingdom

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Ontario, Canada

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United Kingdom

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United Kingdom

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Ontario, Canada

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California, United States

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United Kingdom

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